Natural Disasters as Focusing Events: Policy Communities and Political Response

August 1996 (VOL. 14, NO. 2)

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This article explains how large hurricanes and earthquakes influence Congressional agenda activity. By understanding these events as focusing events, we can better appreciate how they induce the news media and Congress to be more attentive to these disasters. While the theory of focusing events outlined here is broadly supported, considerable differences are found between the hurricane and the earthquake fields. These differences turn on the political environment in which federal policy to address these disasters is made, and include the nature of the committees charged with policy making, the nature of testimony offered before the committees, and the nature of the professional communities that are most active in their policy making. These differences help to explain why there is a greater federal involvement in earthquake policy making than in hurricane policy making. The policy implications of these differences are considered.